Yale Galanter was livid when he flew into Las Vegas to meet with his client O.J. Simpson. He had arrived to discover that a local lawyer was claiming to represent the former pro-football player, arrested by police after an alleged break-in at a hotel to recover memorabilia. In an interview with TIME, Galanter expresses his incredulity at the other lawyer's gall: "Is there any person on the planet who doesn't know I represent him?"
Although Galanter has yet to review the facts surrounding the multiple charges against his client, he maintains Simpson is innocent. "My gut feeling is that you've got two basic accusers," he says. "One of them is in the hospital and one is in jail. Obviously, I do not think Simpson is guilty of any of these charges. I do think O.J. gets treated differently because he's O.J."
And nowadays, Galanter is treated differently because he is with O.J.
Simpson's civil attorneys in California first referred the former pro athlete to Galanter when he moved from Los Angeles to the Miami area in September of 2000. But it was not until three months later that they met. That was when Simpson became involved in a road rage incident in which he was accused of reaching into another vehicle and ripping eyeglasses off the face of its driver. Simpson showed up at Galanter's office shortly after. "I actually came back one day and he was sitting in my conference room," Galanter tells TIME.
At the start of the road rage trial in October 2001, Simpson apparently had so much confidence in Galanter that he entered the Miami courtroom whistling, "If I Only Had a Brain." He has good reason to be impressed by Galanter. Simpson faced up to 16 years behind bars. But Galanter, 50, presented an interesting defense. Police had O.J.'s thumbprint on the pair of glasses worn by the man that Simpson allegedly cut off while driving his SUV in a Miami suburb. However, because the print was on the outside of the lens, Galanter argued Simpson hadn't grabbed the glasses off the man's face, but instead touched the lens when he put his hands up to keep the other man from coming after him. That clever line of reasoning may have helped Simpson avoid jail time.
It has also helped Galanter's profile. Simpson's celebrity made the lawyer a public figure almost overnight. Whenever Simpson gets in trouble and that seems to be a constant Galanter's name has been out there. That has included a federal drug raid on Simpson's home in 2001, a ticket for speeding in a manatee zone in 2002, a domestic violence call to his residence in 2003, and his participation last year in the writing of a fictional account of the murders of his former wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman.
More than one prosecutor in Miami acknowledges that no matter what Simpson does, he makes Galanter look good. "He was a nobody until he represented O.J. on a case that never should have gone to trial," says one Miami-based prosecutor who asked not to be named, referring to the road-rage case, adding "almost anybody could have won that." Since then, Galanter has parlayed his connection to Simpson into regular appearances on TV talk shows analyzing a variety of criminal cases, including the Kobe Bryant rape accusation and the Scott Peterson murder trial.
While Galanter gets most ink from his representation of Simpson, the Philadelphia native actually started out as a state prosecutor in Florida. Galanter honed his trial skills at the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office under Janet Reno. That's also where he met his wife, Elyse. She was a court reporter in former Judge Tom Scott's courtroom and that's where Galanter had been assigned as well. They've been together 21 years, married for eight.
The only child of Robert and Beverly Galanter, he says he grew up in idyllic circumstances in the Philadelphia suburb of Cherry Hill, N.J. He speaks proudly of the work his father and paternal grandparents did in the area. "My dad's mother was the first female optometrist in the U.S.," he says. "My dad worked for his mom as an optometrist. He's still working."
His father plans to celebrate his 90th birthday next month. Instead of continuing the line of optometrists in the family, Galanter originally planned to spend his days on the links. "I was in line to become a professional golfer," he says. "I probably grew up in the only Jewish family whose parents did not want their son to become a doctor or lawyer." But O.J. is probably glad Galanter didn't choose to swing clubs for money.